This post is part of my ‘Cisco CCNA Lab Options’ course. Click here to enrol in the complete course for free!
In this Cisco CCNA training tutorial, I explain the different options you can use for a Cisco CCNA lab and the advantages and disadvantages of each. You can read part one about building your own physical lab here. Scroll down for the video and also text tutorial about Online Lab Rentals.
Lab Option 2 – Online CCNA Lab Rentals
Online Lab Rentals Pros and Cons Summary
Online Lab Rentals Advantages
There are several advantages when using an online lab provider:
- Using this option doesn’t have a waiting time, you can be up and running almost immediately. It is very easy to use.
- It is inexpensive if you are planning to use it for a short time. There are online labs that bill you monthly but most online lab rentals fees are paid by the hour, so it’s perfect when you just want to setup and try out something quickly for a few hours.
- Online labs use real physical devices, the same as with building your own physical lab. Though there might be a few online lab providers that use virtual labs, the majority of them have actual physical equipment that you can connect to remotely.
- They support all the different levels of certification. Most of the online lab providers will have different labs available depending on what certification you are studying for. For example, they will have a CCNA lab, a separate CCNP lab, another one setup for CCIE and possibly different labs depending what track (routing and switching, security, collaboration etc.) you are taking. Pricing will vary depending on the lab you would want to access.
Online Lab Rentals Disadvantages
Online labs also have disadvantages:
- You will not be able to see and feel the equipment you are working on, and you will not be able to experience cabling the equipment together.
- It can get expensive. Most providers calculate the rental fee per hour and your bill will increase the longer you use it.
- It requires Internet connectivity. Virtual lab options and simulators can be run on your laptop with no Internet access, and you do not need to be online to use a physical lab. But if you opt to use the online lab provider, you need to have an Internet connection to connect and use it.
- With most of the lab provider environments you will need to use routers to simulate end hosts. Client computers running Windows or Linux are not included in the lab. You can use a router and set it up to mimic an end host, but this is a little different from a real PC client. If you are building your own physical lab you can connect end hosts to it exactly like you would in a real world deployment.
If you are working on your CCNA certification, using an online lab provider is still a really good option. It can provide you everything you need to gain hands-on practice and pass the exam.
Online Lab Provider Demo
In the video I show a demo of using the online labs from INE, Internetwork Expert. There are other online lab providers available for you to choose from. Most are around the same price range, but some might be more expensive or cheaper than others.
Cisco also have their own online labs for the CCNA, but they are a bit more expensive than INE are. I went with INE as they are good and reliable.
The labs are available at http://rentals.ine.com. Since I am already a member, I just put in my username and password and click on login. If you don't already have a login, the page will also take you to the option to sign up which can be completed in a few minutes.
The next page shows you all the different labs that are available. They've got CCIE Routing and Switching, a more advanced Routing and Switching lab, CCIE Data Center, etc. I use the lab that works for both the CCNA and CCNP Routing and Switching tracks.
The INE labs use a token system, with each token costing $1. They run frequent advertising campaigns where the cost of the tokens is discounted by 50%. The CCNA lab costs only three tokens per hour, the Data Centre is 15 tokens per hour. You can use either a credit card or PayPal to purchase tokens.
From there you just click on schedule and you say what time you would like to use the lab. The default option is a block of 3 hours but you can schedule for shorter or longer periods. The cost is pro rata, so if you take the current time slot and it’s already 20 minutes past the hour you’ll be charged two rather than three tokens for that hour.
When your time slot begins you can click Control Panel to get the lab information. It shows the IP address to Telnet to the lab and the username and password to use. Instructions and the lab topology can also be viewed from there.